Institutional theory and change: the deinstitutionalization of sports science at Club X

Sarah Gilmore, John Sillince

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    Purpose – This paper aims to investigate how sports science was institutionalised and rapidly deinstitutionalised within a Premier League football club. Institutional theory has been critiqued for its lack of responsiveness to change, but recent developments within institutional theory such as the focus on deinstitutionalisation as an explanation of change, the role of institutional entrepreneurs and the increasing interest in institutional work facilitate exploration of change within institutions.

    Design/methodology/approach – The authors deploy a longitudinal case study which ran from 2003-2011. Data was collected via observations, semi-structured interviews and through extensive literature reviews.

    Findings – Via this longitudinal case study, the authors illustrate that the antecedents of deinstitution can lie in the ways by which an institution is established. In doing so, they highlight the paradoxical role potentially played by institutional entrepreneurs in that they can (unwittingly) operate as agents of institutionalisation and deinstitutionalisation. Their study suggests that the higher the performance imperative within a field, the more likely the institution as a generic concept will be deinstitutionalised and the more likely to be appropriated and customised in order to gain inimitability and thus competitive advantage. Finally, the authors make an additional contribution by integrating the affective aspects of institutional work to their analyses; stressing the role played by emotions.

    Research limitations/implications – As with many case studies, the ability to generalise from one case, however detailed, is limited. However, it provides evidence as to the paradoxical role that can be played by institutional entrepreneurs – especially in highly competitive environments.

    Practical implications – The study suggests that the HR function has a potential role to play with regards to institutional continuity through a focus on leader and institutional entrepreneur succession planning.

    Originality/value – The paper makes an original contribution by highlighting both institutional and deinstitutional work within a single case. It highlights the paradoxical nature of institutional entrepreneurs in highly competitive environments and illustrates the importance of emotion to institutional maintenance and deinstitution.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)314-330
    JournalJournal of Organizational Change Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2014


    • Case study
    • Football
    • Institutional work
    • Deinstitutionalisation
    • Institutional entrepreneurs


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